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Dizzy and Disoriented, With No Cure in Sight

It started in 2010 when I smoked pot for the first time since college. It was cheap, gristly weed I’d had in my freezer for nearly six years, but four hours after taking one hit I was still so dizzy I couldn’t stand up without holding on to the furniture. The next day I was still dizzy, and the next, and the next, but it tapered off gradually until about a month later I was mostly fine.

Over the following year I got married, started teaching seventh and eighth grade, and began work on a novel. Every week or so the disequilibrium sneaked up on me. The feeling was one of disorientation as much as dizziness, with some cloudy vision, light nausea and the sensation of being overwhelmed by my surroundings. During one eighth-grade English class, when I turned around to write on the blackboard, I stumbled and couldn’t stabilize myself. I fell in front of my students and was too disoriented to stand. My students stared at me slumped on the floor until I mustered enough focus to climb up to a chair and did my best to laugh it off.

I was only 29, but my father had had a benign brain tumor around the same age, so I had a brain scan. My brain appeared to be fine. A neurologist recommended I see an ear, nose and throat specialist. A technician flooded my ear canal with water to see if my acoustic nerve reacted properly. The doctor suspected either benign positional vertigo (dizziness caused by a small piece of bonelike calcium stuck in the inner ear) or Ménière’s disease (which leads to dizziness from pressure).

Unfortunately, the test showed my inner ear was most likely fine. But just as the marijuana had triggered the dizziness the year before, the test itself catalyzed the dizziness now. In spite of the negative results, doctors still believed I had an inner ear problem. They prescribed exercises to unblock crystals, and salt pills and then prednisone to fight Ménière’s disease.

All this took months, and I continued to be dizzy, all day, every day. It felt as though I woke up every morning having already drunk a dozen beers — some days, depending on how active and stressful my day was, it felt like much more. Most days ended with me in tears. Teaching was nearly impossible; I was unable to write because of blurry vision, and my wife became a caretaker more than a partner; I became addicted to message boards for dizziness, vertigo, benign positional vertigo and Ménière’s disease. Anonymous posters described how their medications didn’t work and their doctors couldn’t cure them. They couldn’t keep their jobs; their friends didn’t understand them; and their spouses left or tried to be supportive, but eventually both suffered.

Finally, my doctor recommended a new neurologist who performed some simple tests and casually gave me a diagnosis of vestibular migraines, a condition that didn’t exist in medical journals 20 years ago.

Apparently, instead of causing severe pain, my migraines manifest as constant dizziness. I began taking Klonopin daily. It immediately mitigated the symptoms, but Klonopin can be addictive. My eyes started to twitch after a few weeks on it, so my doctor looked for another option. After living for two years with incessant dizziness, I settled on a combination of Lexapro and Serzone, both antidepressants, that began to work. In 2013, I could teach and began to write my novel again. I could enjoy life with my wife. We had our first son. I was free.

But there was a downside. A known side effect of the treatment is nightmares. Night after night, I woke up from a tortured dream during which I fought someone off from attacking my wife and baby, or suffered the devastation of them leaving me. I couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time (and still can’t), and neither could my family. Still, compared to the dizziness, it was a trade worth making. I was tired but still able to finish and sell my novel and to teach, and we had our second son.

After nearly three years of being symptom free, I became greedy. Was there a way to live without the dizziness and the nightmares? I thought it might be worth cutting down on the medication to see. In January, I went to half the amount of medication, and I was fine. So I went to a quarter of the amount, and I was fine. So I went off it entirely.

The dizziness came back more viciously than ever. This wasn’t troubling at first; I merely went back on the antidepressants. When they didn’t work after a couple weeks, I grew anxious. But my doctor told me that sometimes the drugs take as long as a month to work. When they were still ineffective after two months, I began to despair. A neurologist explained that sometimes medication doesn’t work a second time — sometimes brain chemistries change, or medications stop proving effective for reasons doctors don’t understand.

So now, we are searching again. It has been five months of dizziness. I am 35 now, doing my best to fight my way through parenting, teaching and working on my book. I am relying on my wife. My neurologist has started me on verapamil, a blood pressure medication, which has been shown to be effective for some migraine sufferers, but is not working for me.

I am pretending for as long as I can, at least in front of my 3-year-old. “Daddy no feel so good?” he says when I brace myself on a chair on my way to the kitchen to reheat his dinner. I’ve begun to see a psychologist who specializes in pain and palliative care to provide techniques to help me get through the day. I am waiting, terrified, to see if this medication, or the next one, will rescue me.

Brian Platzer (@BPlatzer) has written for New Republic, Salon and other publications. His debut novel is to be published in 2017.

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A version of this article appears in print on 06/14/2016, on page D 4 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Dizziness With No End.

A diagnosis of vestibular migraine forced the author to choose between living with disabling dizziness or a treatment that triggered disabling nightmares.

Why Does Marijuana Make Me Dizzy?

Monday September 28, 2015

A nyone who’s ever experienced a bout of dizziness shortly after consuming marijuana knows how uncomfortable it can be. And, though the symptoms of marijuana-induced vertigo usually subside in just a few seconds, the experience can be scary enough to prompt someone to avoid cannabis in the future.

Perhaps a better approach would be to protect against another dizzy spell or at least reduce the likeliness that it will happen again. To do this, we have to understand what’s happening with marijuana-induced vertigo.

Why does marijuana make me dizzy?

Vertigo, or the sensation of dizziness or a loss of balance, can be caused by a number of different things – inner ear problems, sensory nerve disturbances, migraines or anxiety, for example – but finding an accurate correlation between marijuana and vertigo has yet to be discovered.

Nevertheless, we know that THC causes dizziness for many users, with around 1/3 reporting severe symptoms. Some speculate the cause is related to a drop in blood pressure which slows the body’s ability to recover after an abrupt position change. Typically, blood pressure rises briefly after standing to compensate for gravity. When THC causes a drop in blood pressure, gravity can get the better of us, causing the dizzy sensation that so many have come to know.

Another theory is based on THC’s ability to modify sensory perception (our ability to perceive different sounds, sights, scents and other sensations). Typically, sensory nerves allow our brain to perceive our surroundings and modify our behavior accordingly in order to maintain balance. When these sensations are modified, our brains can have difficulty compensating quickly thus causing us to lose our balance or otherwise become disoriented.

Finally, extreme cases of anxiety can cause feelings of dizziness or disorientation. Though anxiety itself is psychological in nature (it occurs in the mind), it can have very real physical consequences such as increased heart rate, erratic breathing, fatigue and insomnia. Combined, these symptoms can cause disorientation as a lack of oxygen combines with weakened neurological processes. The results: a dizzy head and a confused mind, which can unfortunately be exacerbated by too much THC.

So how can I protect myself from marijuana-induced dizziness?

Though there is no sure-fire way to protect against marijuana-induced vertigo, there are some steps you can take to help reduce your chances of getting it. To start, remember to consume marijuana slowly, paying close attention to the dosage and potency of your product. This will help avoid over-consumption which can lead to marijuana-induced anxiety and potentially vertigo as well.

You should also try to remember to move slowly, especially when switching from a reclined to upright position. Remember that your body may take a few extra seconds to make up for the gravity pulling you back down so pace yourself by sitting up slowly.

Finally, remember that the sensations you’re feeling while high are only temporary. Colors may be brighter, sounds more vivid and edges more crisp, but such will only be the case for a few hours. Should dizzy sensations persist for more than a few days, it is important to consult your doctor as more serious issues may be at play. Though THC can remain in the body for multiple days, severe dizziness should not be the result.

Marijuana can cause the body to do some crazy things. Though many of the marijuana’s side effects are considered pleasant, others (like vertigo) are not. Protect yourself from marijuana-induced dizziness by understanding just what’s causing it.

Anyone who’s ever experienced a bout of dizziness after consuming weed knows how uncomfortable it is. Today, find out why you experience marijuana-induced vertigo. ]]>